Better Living through Forestry

A recent University of Illinois study found that apartment
residents who lived close to trees and flowers ‘had better
relations with their neighbors, felt a stronger sense of community,
and experienced less violence in their homes,’ reports Chris Boykin
of Sierra magazine. And yet, the findings of a different
study, commissioned by the conservation group American Forests,
indicate urban forests have declined by 20 percent over the past 10
years. The loss is largely due to urban sprawl and the construction
of new roads.

The disappearance of urban forests is disturbing because of the
myriad benefits trees offer to city residents. One acre of trees
can both create enough oxygen for 18 people and absorb the amount
of carbon dioxide produced by a car traveling 26,000 miles. As
windbreakers, trees can reduce individual heating costs by 30
percent, and as shade producers, trees lessen air conditioning
needs. Trees also reduce storm water run-off by as much as 20
percent. Commercial districts with trees draw more consumers and
tourists, and forested areas 100 feet wide and 45 feet tall can cut
noise pollution by 50 percent. Remarkably, a study by Texas A&M
University found that surgery patients recover more quickly when
their hospital windows offer green views.

Given the immense decline of urban forests and the corresponding
loss in arboreal benefits, the American Forests’ study recommends
an urban forest Marshall Plan: Cities should plant 1.7 billion
trees nationwide over the next decade. According to the
Environmental News Network, if planners endeavor to reach
the 1.7 billion mark, roughly 10 percent of the lost urban canopy
will be restored. Given the perks — psychological, environmental,
and economic — of trees, it seems that we ought to be seeing more
tree-huggers among urban planners.
Erica Wetter

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